So you want to motivate your kids to read. What do you do? Give them a gold star after they’ve read for ten minutes or give them – nothing. You would think it would be the gold star. What get’s rewarded get’s repeated. It’s not just kids. Doesn’t knowing you’re going to get a bonus for working harder or longer incentivize you?

The problem is that getting a reward makes you think that the only reason you’re doing it is for the reward. You start to see the activity as a means to an end, rather than a joy in itself. Give a kid a gold star for reading and she becomes externally motivated by gold stars rather than internally motivated by the joy of reading.

Even while she reads, the quality of that reading is probably lower. The promise of external rewards encourages us to produce the evidence required to get the reward – sitting with a book or spending hours at the office, rather than deeply engaging with the task. When we focus more on the reward than the work, we reduce the quality of our work.

One of the biggest problems with work is that we get paid for it. Does anyone ever say “I want to go to work?” No, they say, “I have to go to work.” As if work is something they are only doing for a salary rather than something that can be intrinsically pleasurable. Ever considered that work is not some hateful, four-letter word. Work is purpose, meaning, dare I say, it can be fun. Besides, imagine a life without work, without the opportunity to focus your mind, solve problems, connect with a team, develop your skills, get recognized and add value. No wonder that when people retire they often get bored and die.

Want to deepen your motivation? Look for internal rather than external reasons for action. With work there is no shortage. As for reading, instead of giving your kids a gold star give them a fun, age appropriate book and tell them how lucky they are to be able to read. Make reading the reward for reading!